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OPINION Brave new world David Smith gives a standing ovation to the toy industry’s entrepreneurs


IT IS said that everyone has a novel inside them (although if that is indeed the case, the one inside me is proving very reluctant to come out). From my experience, it seems that everyone has a new toy or game concept inside them as well – I’m amazed at how often, when talking with someone about the work I do, they chirp up with a phrase like ‘I’ve got a great idea for a toy.’ I’m always happy to listen, although I often come to realise that halfway through their pitch, they think I am actually in a position to bring their dream to fruition and have to gently explain that I own ToyTalk, not Toys R Us. Still, I love the idea that so many of us grown-ups


have ideas for toys and games buzzing around in our heads, and I am full of admiration for the people who actually manage to create their vision and attempt to sell it. Every year, the ToyTalk Awards recognise the best


have come from infant companies set up by bold entrepreneurs who weren’t content to let their idea stay tucked away at the back of their minds. Jurassic Wars, by Dice


Maestro, was a simply brilliant card-and-dice game


I love the idea that so many of us grown-ups have ideas for toys and games buzzing around in our heads.


new toys to be released in the UK over the previous 12 months, and every year there are one or two start- up companies who enter their products. In fact, some of the best toys and games I’ve seen


back in 2009, while 2011 saw the debut of Daughters of History, makers of (in our opinion) the best dolls you can currently buy in the UK. This year, a Chester company called Talkplaces


impressed us with its debut launch, a maths-based game called PLYT that allows kids and adults to compete on equal terms. It’s not so much that the ideas in each of these cases were great. What really impresses me is that the creative people in question have had the gumption to stick their


David Smith runs the consumer-focused toy news site ToyTalk (www.toytalk.co.uk) and is the author of the book 100 Classic Toys. War games


Dr Tara Woodyer, Dr Klaus Dodds and Dr Sean Carter discuss their project looking at whether war toys have a role to play in influencing the future of our armed forces


TOYS ARE no strangers to academic enquiry. Two issues have dominated academic debates; the extent to which toys reflect or reinforce gender stereotypes, and whether ‘playing at war’ is morally acceptable. The Ludic Geopolitics


project is interested in understanding the long- standing British action figure – which for most people (including members of the research team) is of course synonymous with Action Man (Palitoy). Since 2009 the British action figure has been revived by Character Options, in conjunction with the UK Ministry of Defence


in the Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF) range. This range draws


explicitly on the recent military activities of British Armed forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The current best seller is a ten-inch high infantry soldier in desert combats. The doll comes with an assault rifle, radio, flak jacket, body armour, helmet and desert goggles. Rather than seeking to


make judgments about the gendered nature of certain toys, or about the ways in which toys may or may not contribute to ‘cultures of violence’, this new project seeks to extend our understanding about these


kinds of toys in two main ways. First, we will research


how children engage with these toys, and how they contribute to the ways in which they understand issues such as war. We will be looking at


children mainly in the age range of seven to ten. Such children have lived through a decade where British forces have been continuously engaged in overseas combat. Many of these children will


have known someone who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq; most will have seen something in the media. We are interested in understanding how toys,


such as the HMAF range, shape their understanding of conflict and their attitudes towards the British military. Along the way, we will discover more about what other toys children use to ‘play war’. The second strand of the


research seeks to better understand the ways in which toys (in this case the British action figure) reflect the changing realities of global politics. Here we will take an historical perspective and look at the ways that the design and marketing of Action Man changed from its introduction in the 1960s through to its eventual demise in the


Dr Tara Woodyer can be contacted via Kate Daniell in the University of Portsmouth’s press office on 02392 843743 or at kate.daniell@port.ac.uk www.toynews-online.biz January/February 25


1990s. These changes will be analysed alongside interviews and archival research with those who made and played with the Action Man figures. We are working closely with the V & A Museum of Childhood, especially in relation to their current exhibition entitled ‘War Games’. We will produce a range of outputs including a coffee-table style publication that will provide a rich visual history of the action figure. We would be very pleased to hear from anyone working in the toy industry that feels they may be able to contribute to the research.


Dr. Tara Woodyeris senior lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Klaus Doddsis professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway University and Dr Sean Carteris senior lecturer in Human Geography at University of Exeter.


necks out in the middle of a recession and create a new toy or game in the face of massive competition from the big guns of the toy world. As we head into a new


year, and with the Toy Fair just around the corner, I can hardly wait to see what new stuff is on its way for 2014.


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